Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral features a mix of architectural styles. // © 2017 Getty Images
Feature image (above): The Church of Our Lady of Remedies sits on the largest archaeological site in the Americas. // © 2017 Getty Images
Predominantly a Catholic country, Mexico has an impressive number of churches in every town. Many are centuries old and were constructed when the conquistadors first brought Catholicism to Mexico. Religion still plays an important role in everyday life here, and all the unique and unusual churches continue to serve as reminders of the country’s beautiful and complex history. Here are a few must-see churches for any visitor to Mexico.
Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe
The second most visited religious site in the world, this famous Roman Catholic church in the north of Mexico City was designed in a modern circular structure so that the image of the Virgin Mary can be seen from any point in the church. The new basilica can seat 50,000 people and features nine chapels on the upper floor and 10 chapels under the main floor. Sanctuary grounds also include the original Basilica from 1536; a plaza with a visitor information center; a garden; and a museum that houses religious art, paintings and sculptures from the 15th through 18th centuries.
Located in the small village of San Juan Chamula, this church features walls lined with Coca-Cola bottles, due to the belief that it cleanses the body of evil spirits. Worshippers consume the bubbly beverage — which takes the place of holy water — while chanting. Candles are the only source of light inside, and it is illegal to take photos in the church.
City of Churches
Just 5 miles outside the city of Puebla is Cholula, a small town that is home to approximately 45 churches, with most of them close to 300 years old. One of the most impressive sites is the Church of Our Lady of Remedies, which sits on the largest archaeological site in the Americas — a pre-colonial pyramid filled with artifacts and catacombs, making it one of the world’s natural treasures.
Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral is the oldest and largest in Latin America, with 16 chapels, two bell towers, underground catacombs and two massive 18th-century organs. The architecture reflects a combination of Renaissance, baroque and neoclassical styles, and the interior features prized works of art from the colonial era. “Voices of the Cathedral,” a sound and light show, guides visitors on a candlelit stroll of the cathedral, and the tour is accompanied by period music.
San Juan Parangaricutiro
Buried halfway in solidified lava rock, the church of San Juan Parangaricutiro is all that remains of the small Mexican village, which was completely destroyed by an eight-year-long volcanic eruption that began in 1943. Many credit the church’s survival to an act of God and come to see the stunning lava rock formations that surround it as part of the Ring of Fire, an area known for its volcanoes.
Temple of Santiago
Normally, the remains of this 16th-century church are submerged 100 feet underwater in the Nezahualcoyotl reservoir in Chiapas. Also known as the Temple of Quechula, the church was built in 1564 and abandoned 200 years later after a plague devastated the area. When water levels are low due to drought, the church is exposed, and people will hold mass out in the middle of the water. Local fishermen will often take visitors on tours of the church via boat.